The Listening Dividend

Five reasons why listening is important for school leaders

Listening is invaluable in schools in all sorts of ways and at many levels of responsibility – teachers, school leaders, students themselves and parents.  Here Peter Hudson explains why listening is vital for school leaders.

Reason 1: to make the best use of the school’s biggest asset – its staff

Without doubt a school’s biggest and most important resource is its staff.  It should be blindingly obvious that such a crucial asset needs to be nurtured, supported and motivated to ensure that there are the highest levels of morale and performance amongst all the staff and for all functions.

So why is it that teachers are leaving the profession in significant numbers?  Why is it that staff turnover in many schools is so high?  Well, the admin and paperwork is usually quoted as being the key factor and they certainly play a part in the demoralisation of many teachers.

In my travels around schools, however, I have found that what changes the turnover level is a sense amongst the staff of feeling truly supported and encouraged.  The best way of doing this is for the school leaders at senior and middle management levels to listen to their staff: really listen.

If someone is listened to effectively, there is a greater sense of self-worth and therefore of motivation.  Motivation increases resilience and this means more is achieved, which improves the senses of self-worth. And so the virtuous circle continues.  And all this is achieved just by listening to your staff!

It’s almost that simple, but not quite.  It needs to be active or, as I sometimes call it, motivational listening.  The good news is that people can – and do – learn how to listen in this way, and the results in terms of improved staff morale and reduced staff turnover are the dividends are well worth the effort.

Reason 2: to get the best out of your co-leaders

Of course, nearly all the last paragraph applies to the senior and middle management leaders as well. They too need to feel listened to and supported to be able to function at their optimum level.  And the best way of doing that is to adopt an active listening style in nearly all management settings: formal meetings, informal meetings and chance encounters.

It is also very beneficial for all managers to have a regular one to one meeting, run along listening lines, with those people who report to them:  the dividend can be immense.  Often, because managers are able, experienced people, it seems to be assumed that they are immune from the common need of lesser mortals to be appreciated and heard and helped to flourish. A key thing about active or motivational listening is getting the person being listened to, to take some action to move forward on whatever is being considered.

This action plan will be undertaken far more energetically, and therefore effectively in most cases, if it comes from the person who has to carry it out rather than from the listener.  Active listening can achieve this, often, in quite stunning ways.

Reason 3: to improve the quality of planning and decision making

With very little adaptation, active listening skills can give team meetings a huge and productive boost.  There’s no fixed way of doing this: different teams adapt the skills to their particular situation in a number of ways; but what is common to all of them is that:

    1. Everyone makes a positive and detailed contribution, not just the usual suspects
    2. New solutions tend to emerge rather than simple ratification of the Head’s suggestions!
    3. The best use is made of all team members
    4. Team morale increases
Reason 4: to manage conflict situations more effectively

Conflict arises in all institutions and schools are no different.  The sign of a good school is not that there is no conflict but rather when it occurs it is managed effectively.  I once witnessed a very senior leader very effectively taking the heat out of a meeting with a very angry parent by using active listening skills.  At the beginning the parent was very close to physical violence, by the end an action plan had been created in which both the school and the parent/student had a part to play.

Listening skills can be effectively used in conflict situations between students as well, and if necessary although fortunately much less often, between staff.  It might sound trite but happy students make better learners and happy staff make better teachers.

Reason 5: to be good role models for staff and students alike

As one of the school leadership team you have a significant influence on everyone in your school:  you are a role model for them. So you need to decide how best to play out this role.

Setting an example as a listening, caring person will rub off and you will be helping staff and students alike.

Post Script

But it’s not any old listening.  It has to be active listening or motivational listening. That said, it isn’t hard to learn and doesn’t take too long either, so long as you are prepared to practise.


Peter Hudson, a past Chair of the British Association of Social Functioning, is a qualified counsellor and psychotherapist. His career has encompassed counselling and psychotherapy in private practice, the state sector with the UK’s National Health Service and in schools both in the UK and overseas. Peter is currently a consultant with Consilium Education.

If you would like to know more about his work with schools in the area of listening skills, please e-mail


Feature Image: geralt-Pixabay

Other Image: geralt-Pixabay

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  • Guy Arcuri December 10, 2016  

    Great stuff!

  • Mark January 16, 2017  

    Truly!! A wonderful non-techy human behavioral realization and “What a wonderful concept?”!
    I have and will continue to differentiate the difference between the human interface and one of our senses. (Hearing vs. listening) A great deal of any orientation should dedicate a great deal of activity toward implementing and reinforcing this very skill. (e.g.) Courses, Classes, PDP’s, any team activity, etc.
    My ninth grade engineering class is learning the terms rhetorical and lackadaisical quit well. Just by listening.
    Teamsmanship is at an all-time high if all are paying attention! Oh and here’s the deal win, lose, and draw? Greater accomplishments are inevitable! “Listening” Perhaps one of the keys through the successful process of accomplishment.

  • Richard P. Robinson January 19, 2017  

    Listening effectively is without doubt the most important tool in learning, so it must apply at all levels. However, amongst the myriad of assessments that are now imposed on students and teachers alike, listening for information, gist,tone and tenor is treated as a poor cousin to reading and writing skills.
    FACT: in our lifespan, hearing will be the first and last sense in ourconsciousness. We will depend each day more on our hearing than our speaking, reading and writing,IF we are fortunate enough to have this capacity. But how much are we encouraged to value and to consciously improve this faculty? Why do we predominantly test our ability to write and read, when in our personal and professional lives our ability to listen and to speak in a variety of registers will be regularly judged or valued?
    Paradoxically,however,the increasing number of those who strap their ears between two headphones, exposed to limited playlists or receiving a truncated form of ” new-speak” , this group is doing anything but honing the vital skill of listening effectively to a range of aural messages.
    Why is it that of all our school subjects, only modern foreign languages actually practise and assess the skillmof listening. Why is so little importance attached to formal assessment of speaking in one’s native language,minna variety of registers , in the sciences, maths, humanities and other arts?
    It’s time to wake up, World! Listen to a variety of others and learn to speak effectively in a variety of registers!